In 2012, President Obama called charter schools “incubators of innovation.” He explained that, “These institutions give educators the freedom to cultivate new teaching models and develop creative methods to meet students’ needs. This unique flexibility is matched by strong accountability and high standards, so under-performing charter schools can be closed, while those that consistently help students succeed can serve as models of reform for other public schools.”

Charter schools may be “incubators of innovation” in the education field, but our technological counterpart can be compared to the likes of Apple. It wasn’t until recently while reading the bio of Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder and CEO, that I fully realized the part we are playing in innovating, engineering and inventing better charter schools.

Impact of Innovation

Whether its participating in opening a new charter school, observing the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board, or attending a North Carolina charter school event, inventing, innovation and engineering are all around. In Becoming Steve Jobs, author Brent Schlender describes the career of Steve Jobs in terms of three synonymous terms: inventing, innovating, and engineering. When we examine each word individually as it applies to Apple, we begin to see how they align to the strategies of a charter schools too.

Inventing: Defined as the process of creating original products. Inventions shift paradigms and make giant leaps with new possibilities. The iPhone was an invention that was far from anything anyone had ever seen before. This seemingly small invention resulted in astronomical changes to communications for the world. Charter schools invented a “new way” of educating that provided an alternative to traditional public school, thus, yielding positive results for the last 20+ years.

Innovating: Defined as rethinking the application of existing tools in order to combine them in a way that creates new possibilities. The first Apple computers were innovations because they combined computer parts in a new way and brought computers into the home for the first time. Charter schools are innovative in the way they develop creative ways to meet the needs a student. This student-centered approach continues to be the biggest appeal to charter school supports.

Engineering: This is defined as to work within a set of raw materials to solve a problem. Apple has re-engineered its products, making slight and incremental improvements to make them smaller, classier, and of higher capacity. For more 20 years, charter schools have evolved, analyzed and learned better ways to improve the educational experience for students.

When I look at Apple and its approach to innovation, invention, and engineering, I can align it with charter schools.  As “incubators of innovation,” it is our job to test and communicate pathways to success that might not otherwise have an opportunity in traditional public schools. Many times they are inventing new systems altogether, or fine tuning proven systems of instruction.

When comparing the role of charter schools, I believe that you can accomplish this through innovation, invention, and ingenuity. Here are questions to ask yourself about your school:

Are you Inventors?

Does your school have a vision unlike any other school before you? Have you developed a new and undocumented approach to instructional methods or school design?

Are you Innovators?

Does your school combine proven tools in a new way that could change the way people look at school?

Are you Engineers?

Do you and your team work to refine and execute a plan that will build a successful outcome?

One thing that is true of all successful charter schools is that they know their mission and purpose. By knowing who you are, you will be able to communicate your vision with clarity, and better recruit families, teachers, and others to your cause. As one charter school visionary once told me as a metaphor, “We build canoes here. Sure, there are plenty of different boats out there but here, we think that if we really focus on building the best canoes we can, that we will still be able to compete, and maybe even outperform, the others.”

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